The Power of Music: Interview with Donna StoeringShare
Pianist and activist Donna Stoering talks about music and "Power of Eight" at Carnegie Hall.
Donna Stoering is a concert pianists, author, educator and former Artistic Ambassador for both the UK and the USA. She has been performing public concerts since the age of five and teaching since age 14. She is also a founder of an extraordinary organization: Listen for Life.
The Creativity Post: What desire came first: becoming a pianist or "changing the world”? And do you remember the moment when you realized that you could do both?
Donna Stoering: Well, I wanted to do nothing more than play the piano since I was 3 years old, apparently, and have been performing concerts since age 5, so I would have to say that becoming a pianist would have been first. (smile)
However, because I was a pianist all of my life, I did not see it as a career goal or as something to “become" - it was just part of who I was. And as a teenager I began to feel an intense desire to do something that would make a difference in others' lives, so since this was a "newer" aspiration, I assumed I needed to find a "new" skills focus above and beyond that of playing music for people - I didn't yet realize that music could really impact the quality of people's lives. So I went to university intending to do genetics research or some sort of medical work as that clearly 'helped" people. And yes I do remember the moment when I realized that my work in music could actually do both functions - while in college I was touring as a concert artist and one night a man came up to me in tears after the concert and thanked me for "healing" his feelings of loss after the death of his wife.... he said the touch on the piano touched his soul very directly and did things that no medicine had managed to do for him. That made me start thinking, and then I played Rachmaninov's First Piano Sonata in London and a woman stopped me on the street there about 6 months later and thanked me for that performance, saying that hearing that piece live had completely changed the direction of her life and she would never be the same.
It is still somewhat of a jump from those individual, personal exchanges to a more driven but general sense of "Changing the world" per se, but that wider goal developed gradually, through my experiences as Artistic Ambassador for both the UK and USA - meeting so many music listeners and musicians, from very different cultures and countries and yet all verbalizing the same needs and desires for ways that their lives could be positively changed through music - either through a greater connection to their own traditions or through greater opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue as a bridge to peace. I am honored to be considered an activist through music but I see myself more as an ambassador for the POWER of music to make that difference the world is seeking, and be that inspiration and nourishment that the world is needing.
TCP: You said many times that music is a form of communication; what exactly do you mean by that?
DS: How I answer that question would depend on which hat I am wearing.... one can scientifically describe the reception centers in the brain that respond to a connected series of musical tones, as if to a conversation or the conveying of an emotion...or one can talk medically about measuring the drop in blood cortisol levels of a person listening to calming music - that too is a form of communication in that the music is delivering "relaxing" messages to the listener's body ...or one can talk about composers of each generation who are convinced that specific intervals, chords, harmonics, or keys create specific "colors" that in turn communicate certain emotions, moods or images.
But for me personally I guess when I talk about music and communication I am meaning it more from the standpoint of contrast from the way that very many people sadly perceive or define "music" today. In other words, I stress that it is a language or form of communication to raise awareness of the fact that it is NOT just "background noise", the soundtrack of one's individual life, elevator music, or the sounds companies use to distract you from the fact that you are on hold for 85 minutes on their phone system. For many people, music is a heightened form of prayer, and prayer is defined as "communication with God", so for many people therefore, music's higher purpose is to be an inspired channel of communication between God and humanity, or vice versa. For others, music is the highest repository of their cultural richness, tradition and language of relationship with the outside world.
When the Africans were captured and brought to Peru into slavery, the first thing the slave-owners did was to take away their prized musical instruments, because they recognized that this was how they primarily communicated with (and empowered) each other. The slaves responded, over extended years in slavery, by creating new instruments out of anything they could find to hand - and to this day the traditional Afro-Peruvian instruments are the donkey jaw and the cajon (box).... that is what they found around them. And their communication of their human richness and dignity continued through those new instruments. Today, because we are surrounded by music 24/7, we have lost that desperate determination to stay connected to our cultural need for musical communication and musical listening. We don't "listen" to the music we "hear" 24/7, and typically what we hear is not of our own individual choosing, so we have to become more aware of music's power to affect us, and make pro-active choices in what we are hearing and listening to.
TCP: What is the ultimate goal, mission of your organization Listen for Life?
DS: To raise that awareness I was talking about earlier, so that music's power and potential as a positive channel of communication, (at any and all levels), is restored - for all future generations of music listeners. And to help this generation of music-makers to realize the tremendous gift and responsibility they have, to use their talents to create music of the highest possible beauty and inspiration, as a service to others.
I guess one could say that within Listen for Life we strive to serve music itself, by supporting musicians (with performance opportunities, etc), sustaining their cultures, and sharing the music with the widest possible audience through our global media access.
Being a composer myself since a very young age, the creative drive within me is extremely strong and I get restless when things are status quo or not at a positive level of chaos. I can also get very frustrated spending 10-14 hours a day on admin and organizational tasks at a computer or phone, trying to help manage this global family of Listen for Life and its projects, programs, productions and volunteers, worldwide. But the goal of Listen for Life is ultimately creative as well, and I try to remind myself that it's just a different kind of musical planet that we are in effect "composing" and it is only possible thanks to a global 'symphony " of wonderful music-listeners who are our co-creators worldwide.
TCP: Could you tell us more about upcoming "The Power of Eight" event at Carnegie Hall?
DS: We're calling it "The Power of Eight": 8 internationally-known musicians, performing on 8 different instruments, representing 8 world cultures, at 8:00pm on Sunday January 8th in CARNEGIE HALL.
The program is "Around the World in 80 Minutes" and it features renowned musicians from the genres of classical music, world music and jazz, as well as the premieres of important new works by two very popular composers.
We are bringing together three of the top master-musicians from Israel, Syria and Jordan/Palestine, who will play together on one stage as a musical statement for peace in the new year. They will be joined by top award-winning artists from Vietnam, Hawaii, and other cultures in a program designed to introduce exciting, inspirational music-listening alternatives to all ages of attendees.
The musicians performing at Carnegie are all members of Listen for Life, a global organization of music listeners, performers and producers that has thus far impacted the lives of 9 million people in 55 countries through our international outreach projects, our innovative live programs on music festivals and concert series, and our award-winning music-media productions shown on the BBC and other broadcast/online networks.
You can read more about the program and artists at www.listenforlife.org/carnegie, more importantly, the Carnegie event is simply the centerpiece of events we are organizing around the world on that day, as we have declared January 8th to be Multicultural Music Day worldwide. We are still inviting musicians to create their own impromptu cross-cultural performances in any location or venue in their own communities on that date - we will promote their events on our world-ranked website, and we will include any video they send us afterwards, in a broadcast program that we are making to celebrate music's power as a force of unity, nourishment, inspiration and communication throughout the globe. Participating musicians can let us know even up to the day, about their plans and we will then post the website, so if any of your readers might be interested in participating they can contact us through our website, our LfL FB page, or via email : firstname.lastname@example.org and phone (510) 540 8136.